What a difference 11 years can make.  Here are two reports about service station food, the first focusing on Leicester Forest East (Charnwood Forest as it was then known), the second mentioning it only in passing.

Jambaraya on the Motorway

If you like your fish with candied yams, fried bananas, shredded cocoanut and exotic sauces, then what you want is Jamaican Fish Jambaraya and your chances of getting it on a motorway are better than you think.  Spare a greedy thought for it as you whizz down the M1 towards Leicester–you have only to pull in at the Charnwood Forest pitstop and ask for the Captain’s Table and if you cannot face all that frying and candying you can have a flambe curry instead.

Charnwood belonngs to the Ross group–hence the prevalence of fish.  It is their only motorway concession, and has a record number of stars–eight–from the A.A.  Ross have just pursuaded the Leicester magistrates that the Captain’s Table should be licenced for music and for live entertainment–though whether this means Jayne Mansfield or a Palm Court orchestra is still secret.  Perhaps it is Charnwood that has taken all the trade from Cunard–the decor is that of an ocean liner (down to the four gold stripes on the manager’s cuff) but the place does not go up and down when the wind blows.

The Times, 23 May 1967, p. 23.

Second bite at M-way cafes proves unappetizing

Two of the Egon Ronay Organization’s longest-suffering inspectors have revisited Britain’s motorway cafeterias and restaurants and returned almost as revolted as when they made the same tour of inspection last year.

The unfortunate pair chosen for the unappetizing task had hoped that the wide publicity given to their previous report last November, and the subsequent announcement of a government inquiry into motorway services, might have brought about radical improvements.  By and large, they were disappointed.

Their report is full of instances of disagreeable food in more or less agreeable surroundings.  This year 61 per cent of the establishments are graded “poor” or “appalling” (35 out of 57), compared with 73 per cent last year. The number of “acceptable” establishments has climbed from 14 to 21, but there is still only one that is rated “good”.

Most of the improvements are attributed to stations operated by Granada, who are said to have introduced an improved range of standardized products and made “commendable efforts” to serve them in fresh condition.

Nine of their 12 outlets are now graded acceptable, compared with three acceptable, five poor and two appalling out of 10 last year.

Paradoxically, the only establishment reckoned “good” last year, the restaurant on the M1 at Trowell, Nottinghamshire, has dropped to “poor” now that Granada have purchased it from the previous owners, Mecca.

The only good motorway eating now, in the inspectors’ opinion, is at the Alan Pond restaurant on the M8 at Harthill, in Scotland; “the only motorway outlet”, they note, “for fresh fish”.

Elsewhere the inspectors’ discoveries included “inedible gravy under stale pastry” (Leicester Forest East cafeteria, M1); “steak pies and burgers as bad as we have experienced anywhere” (Michael Wood cafeteria, M5); “processed peas in lurid green liquor, soggy chips…and revolting sausages: hard, burst, pink and shapeless” (Knutsford cafeteria, M6).

At Forton, on the M6 in Lancashire, nothing in the restaurant “was found commendable except that the tea had some flavour”.  At Newport Pagnell, on the M1, the cafeteria is described as being in “an indefensible state of neglect”.

Top Rank, who operate both, are praised for improvements at one cafeteria, Aust on the Severn Bridge, M4, which has progressed from “appalling” to “acceptable”.

Trust House Forte, who operate most motorway establishments, a total of 16, are said to have conspicuously improved décor, seating, crockery, layout and staff supervision, but the inspectors found “no substantial improvement” in the quality of the food.

Egon Ronay’s Survey of Motorway Catering, April, 1978 (Egon Ronay Organization Ltd, Greencoat House, Francis Street, London, SW1; 50p, including postage).

The Times 10 April 1978, frontpage


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